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Game Preview: Charlotte Hornets vs. Los Angeles Lakers – 2/28/17

 

Lakers Seek Revenge After Blowing 19-Point Lead in Charlotte

By: John Lu

 

The Lakers underwent a dramatic management overhaul shortly before the trade deadline and introduced Lakers legend Magic Johnson as the new President of Basketball Operations. Emphasizing flexibility and youth development, Johnson traded the team’s leading scorer Lou Williams and backup point guard Marcelo Huertas to the Houston Rockets. With these trades, the team’s playstyle and identity have shifted towards the development of its young core, especially D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, and Julius Randle.

 

In the second game of a four-game homestand, the Lakers will face the Charlotte Hornets for the second time this season. During the first meeting back on 12/20/16, the Lakers jumped out to a 19-point lead before unfortunately losing to a comeback effort led by Hornets All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, who contributed a near triple-double with 28 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds. The Hornets offense that game was very efficient – with 30 assists and 11 out of 25 shooting from beyond the arc. The Lakers should look to slow down Kemba while simultaneously focus on developing their own young players.

 

Kemba Scoring in the Pick & Roll

 

 

Why it Worked: In this play, the Hornets start the possession with an early pick-and-roll set between Kemba and Cody Zeller. Russell is caught by the screen while Mozgov is positioned too low on the hedge and does not have his feet set properly. As a result, he is caught backpedaling and Kemba easily accelerates past him for the layup. For the season, Kemba is penetrating to the rim effectively with a career-high 32.7% of his made field goals coming from less than 3 feet from the basket.

 

How to Adjust: Proper defense on pick-and-roll sets is crucial for the Lakers. This has been a frequently stressed point throughout the season. The defending big man needs to communicate the direction of the screen to the guard to minimize contact made and also must hedge high to cut off the drive. Despite his ability to drive into the defense, Kemba is shooting only 36.5% on two-point field goals outside of 3 feet. The Lakers would benefit from forcing him to convert from midrange.

 

Kemba Passing in the Pick & Roll

 

Why it Worked: The Hornets again run the same pick-and-roll set. Zeller makes great contact on the screen to allow Kemba to drive into the defense after the curl. Because Mozgov is on the wrong side of the screen, Nick Young is forced to leave Batum to help on the drive. Kemba makes the correct read and kicks the ball to Batum for the wide open three. In addition to his ability to attack the rim, Kemba has been extremely efficient creating for others in the offense with a 29.2% AST% and 10.2% TOV%.

How to Adjust: The Hornets are in the bottom-third of the league in three-point percentage at 35.0%. On the season, only four players on their team are shooting over 33.0% from long distance (Kemba – 39.9%; Belinelli – 37.6%; Batum 35.2%; and Marvin Williams – 34.6%). It would be imperative for the Lakers to keep the scouting report in mind and recognize which opposing player they should leave to help on a drive versus which players they should stay at home on to protect against the three-point shot.

 

Run the Offense Through D’Angelo Russell

 

Why it Worked: The Lakers run pick-and-roll action with Russell and Randle at the three-point line. Although Randle does not make contact with his screen, Russell catches Kemba off balance with a hesitation move and drives past him. Williams is not in position to help on the drive and Russell penetrates into the paint for the layup finish over Zeller.

 

 

Here Russell is in another one-on-one matchup with Kemba on the wing. Four Hornets players shift their attention towards Russell, in anticipation that he either drives by or posts-up against Kemba. Russell makes a great read and hits the wide open Clarkson in the weak side corner with a bullet pass. Splash.

 

How to Adjust: Although Russell played well in the past meeting against the Hornets (15 PTS, 5 REB, 5 AST, 2 BLK, and 2 TO on 54% TS in 26 minutes), Luke Walton decided to sub him out for Lou Williams late in the 4th quarter (3:44 remaining) with a score of 111 to 105 in the favor of the Lakers. The Hornets then proceed to outscore the Lakers 11 to 2 in the final minutes to steal the victory. With the departure of Lou Williams, the Lakers should have Russell on the floor to close out every single game.

 

Notes: The Lakers and Hornets are both in the bottom-third of the league in terms of field goal percentage –- 23rd and 29th, respectively. Both teams have the same three-point percentage at 35.0%. The Hornets are 7th in the league in terms of defensive efficiency while the Lakers are 25th in terms of offensive efficiency. In the two games since the trade deadline, D’Angelo Russell has averaged 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists on 54.2% true shooting in 32.5 minutes per game. 

Jordan Clarkson & the Reality of Regression

By: Michael Taylor
(Video By: Tom Zayas)

Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Jr., Brandon Ingram, and Ivica Zubac: this is the order in which Los Angeles has amassed its treasure trove of young talent. For each highlight play, there’s been frustration. For every moment a “Baby Laker” takes a step forward, lumps are taken the next. Development is unique in and of itself, as it brings excitement to those who envision what the future could hold.

The Lakers hold two blue chip prospects in D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram (three if Julius Randle is included). Early on, Zubac looks to be a considerable steal, while high-flyer Larry Nance, Jr. projects a high-end role player, and Tarik Black is banging on the door to be considered as part of the young core.

This year, all the previously mentioned Lakers have made improvements to their game in some form or fashion. Truthfully speaking, I cannot say the same for Jordan Clarkson.

For all the things Jordan Clarkson has going for him (oozes athleticism, height, & length), role stability is not one of them. As a rookie, he entered the league as a point guard, and as a sophomore he was moved to shooting guard, providing solace to Laker fans with his consistent play amid the worst season in Lakers history. 

Whatever passing chops he flashed as a rookie are now being posted on milk cartons around Los Angeles.

Even casual fans can see that Clarkson fails to make the simple read here. As he approaches the basket, Pau Gasol has fully committed to him. Tarik Black is so open that Clarkson can almost hand him the ball, yet his eyes are glued to the rim akin to that of a dog to a bone. However, stats tend to often disagree with the eye test, right? Wrong.

Statistically, his 12.6 AST% is the lowest of his career, and his 12.7 TOV% nearly matches it. This leads to a 1.11 AST/TO ratio, which is only higher than  Robinson, Black, Zubac, and Mozgov. To paint an even darker picture, that ranks 178th in the NBA, among guards. Conversely, his unwillingness to pass can lead to some terrible shot selection, which is another valid criticism of his 2016-2017 season.

The play ends in a contested step-back three which rightfully annoys Luke Walton. What’s concerning here is Clarkson’s lack of awareness, as reversing the ball would lead to an open Lou three.

There’s an underlying reason as to why Jordan Clarkson’s gunner mentality is a glaring issue. 37.0% (5.5 POSS) of his entire offense comes out of Pick and Rolls, even though he’s only generating .77 Points Per Possession on a 42.6% eFG and turning it over 16.0% of the time. For comparison’s sake, Austin Rivers runs Pick and Rolls on 33.6% of his possessions and generates .92 Points Per Possession on a 50.8% eFG while turning it over 15.7% of the time. Austin Rivers isn’t an elite player, but he’s in the 78th percentile, and Jordan Clarkson is in the 41st percentile. This helps explain why most of Clarkson’s shots (30.5%) come off 3-6 dribbles, and he’s shooting only 47.4% eFG on those shots.

All of this is a fancy way of saying that the play type he runs the most is the play type he is the least efficient at.

 

He rejects the screen from Randle and does a nice job of putting Damian Lillard on his hip. There’s a split second where Randle has a window for a pocket pass but Clarkson misses it, causing him to take a runner from a poor angle. This play is emblematic of his struggle’s all season.

Yet it is not all doom and gloom. Hope remains in the form of glimpses.

 

In the limited plays that Clarkson’s had his head up, taking what the defense gives him, he has shown promise. This turnover (credited to Clarkson) is encouraging in that he makes the correct read. As Gobert commits to Clarkson, he gives it up to Mozgov. While the pass could have been more on the numbers, it’s a pass that Mozgov needs to catch. Not only does Clarkson make the correct read, he’s smart enough to reject the lob over Gobert, which Mozgov is calling for.

As for his shooting, his TS% sits at 52.8, while the league average is around 54%. His 3 Point shooting has not improved, and weirdly enough he’s taking more corner threes than ever this season at 20.7% despite shooting a career-low 26.7%. So, as a below average shooter, what else does he bring?

Not much.

His TRB% and AST% sit at a career low (5.7 and 12.6 respectively), while his -2.47 Defensive Real-Plus-Minus sits at 79th among PGs. While his effort is lauded (T-26 in loose balls recovered per game at 1.0), it’s often negated due to defensive mistakes attributed to poor judgment and fundamentals.

This brings us to the main issue. Jordan Clarkson doesn’t do anything other than score, and even then, he usually fails to score efficiently. 

Around mid-December, Luke Walton showed Jordan Clarkson footage of the end of his 1st campaign and was quoted as saying:

“We kind of just want him to be in attack mode, but be ready to make the right play each time. Sometimes that’s a shot. Sometimes that’s a pass.”

 

For all intents and purposes, that has not yet happened, and the level at which he shoots with reckless abandon is becoming indefensible.

If there is any silver lining, it is that playing next to Lou Williams poisoned Jordan Clarkson like a cyanide pill. Pete Zayas, the OG, likens Lou to an invasive species that comes in and wrecks shop, but in doing so alters the rest of the ecosystem. The second unit was built around Lou, and it’s hard to argue its effectiveness, especially when the bench was healthy.

Jordan Clarkson is not nearly as efficient, as Lou is a sizzling 60.1 TS% and in the 94th percentile (!!!) in Pick and Rolls. Lou thrives in early offense with a lot of drag screens that free him up for jumpers. He’s adept at rejecting screens and drawing fouls, making him a highly effective scorer, and the same cannot be said for Jordan Clarkson. He doesn’t have near the natural feel for the game that D’Angelo Russell has, nor the craftiness of a 13-year prep-to-pro vet like Lou Williams. Where a more freelance/read and react offense better suits the Russell and Williams, it does not favor Clarkson’s style of play.

 


 

The Lakers are coming to a crossroads with Clarkson, and I would argue that change is coming sooner rather than later. There’s reason to believe that Jordan Clarkson can perform better with some immediate changes. He’ll start playing as the backup PG after the Lakers traded Lou Williams to Houston. Trading Lou does a few things: it frees up Russell for more minutes, and in JC’s case, liberates him by giving him the ball and removing a ball stopper from common lineups. These final games could give the Lakers a chance to see if Clarkson can rediscover some of the passing ability he flashed as a rookie.

While I’m very skeptical, I believe he can accomplish this return — to an extent. If he cannot, there should be a serious discussion about moving Clarkson to attain as much talent as possible while his stock is still reasonably high, as hard as that is to say.

At 24, there is a higher chance than fans would like to admit that this is what he is. Or rather, he is what he is going to be. You don’t often see players transform in their mid 20’s, and Clarkson is unlikely to break that mold. However, he does not have to transform as much as return to the rookie form that got him named to the 1st Team All-Rookie team. As someone who was watched Clarkson closely throughout the season, the early returns have not been promising.

Over the past twelve games, his numbers have dropped across the board. He’s posting a 50.6 TS%, 6.4 TRB%, 10.1 AST%, and 16.2 TOV%, leading to a 0.95 AST/TO ratio. As a Lakers fan, perhaps it’d be better stand with the optimist’s view of “it’s always darkest before the dawn.”

His contract is team-friendly at 4 years $50 million, which is roughly around 13.3% of the cap this season, 11.2% next season, and will likely stay around that level for the next two seasons. While his development has stagnated, he’s done it once (the end of his rookie season), so surely he could do it again. For young NBA players progress is not, and will never be, linear, but in the case of Clarkson, at 24 in his 3rd season, his time is running up. In a league where assets have never been more valuable, how he performs on the court from now to the end of the season is as important as ever.


Jim Buss & Mitch Kupchak Fired — Magic Johnson Named President of Basketball Operations

By: Pete Zayas

What We Know 

-Jim Buss & Mitch Kupchak have been relieved of their duties, effective immediately. John Black was also relieved.

-Magic Johnson has taken Jim’s place as the President of Basketball Operations. 

“Effective immediately, Earvin Johnson will be in charge of all basketball operations and will report directly to me. Our search for a new General Manager to work with Earvin and Coach Luke Walton is well underway and we hope to announce a new General Manager in short order.” -Jeanie Buss

-NBA Agent Rob Pelinka is being reported as the front-runner to be the next Lakers General Manager, serving under Magic Johnson.

-Ramona Shelburne is reporting that Ryan West’s (Assistant GM) influence within the organization will grow, at least in the interim.

-The trade deadline is in 2 days.

I’m neither here to bury, nor praise Jim Buss & Mitch Kupchak. Their respective legacies and the reasons why they were fired will be hotly debated amongst Laker fans, bloggers, and reporters alike over the next few weeks. However, they suddenly represent the past, and what I want to sort through is what happens next.


What happens in the next 48 hours?

From here on out, this post becomes deeply speculative.

The timing of this organizational shakeup is considerably more surprising than the fact that it actually happened. The writing was on the wall when Magic was brought into the fold (arguably even before that), and the speed with which the Lakers have a front-runner for the GM position suggests that such a process has been in the works for a while. The three conclusions that seem most logical, either individually or in some combination, are:

1) The DeMarcus Cousins trade and the Lakers’ inability to acquire him was the final straw.

2) Jeanie Buss & Magic Johnson didn’t want to give Jim & Mitch the opportunity to make another move in what would have been their last opportunity to do so.

3) Magic Johnson and the incoming regime have been working the phones themselves, and have designs on executing a trade of their own prior to Thursday’s trade deadline.

 The second option seems more plausible than the first and third. While Jeanie & Magic may very well have been displeased with Mitch & Jim’s inability to land Cousins, especially considering the pittance that he was eventually traded for, it strains credulity to imagine that this would have ultimately changed anything regarding Jim & Mitch’s future with the franchise. Magic’s media tour, brazen comments regarding his desire to be the final voice on basketball matters (lobbying for Jim’s position, essentially), and Kevin Ding’s most recent column enumerating the failures of Jim & Mitch’s tenure all pointed in the same direction.

This was happening regardless of whether or not they acquired DeMarcus Cousins. 

Additionally, the idea of Magic and a secret cabal of associates working the phones, trying to orchestrate trades behind the backs of Jim & Mitch, seems implausible. In a league of sharks and guppies, the front offices they were negotiating with would have assuredly leaked such dysfunction and palace intrigue within the Lakers organization. That isn’t to say that a deal won’t be made within the next 48 hours, with a Lou Williams deal being the most obvious move, but every negotiation is likely beginning at square one. 

As is usually the case, the truth is probably closest to the simplest explanation. Jeanie Buss & Magic Johnson knew that the tenures of Jim Buss & Mitch Kupchak were through, it was pointless to continue a charade that suggested otherwise, and they were not going to sign off on any last-ditch personnel changes that they didn’t orchestrate themselves. 

Jeanie said on Spectrum:

“This was a very difficult decision. It was so hard for me, that I probably waited too long & for that I apologize.”

 

The wild card in the next 48 hours is Ryan West. His prior level of involvement may be the difference between existing negotiations with other teams being able to continue, or if they’re starting from scratch as the clock ticks away.


The Roles of Magic Johnson, Ryan West, & the Next GM

 

Despite the extraordinary events of the day, and a degree of distaste for how it was all handled, I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of a Magic Johnson, (presumably) Rob Pelinka, & Ryan West triumvirate.

It’s important to consider where the Lakers are and where they’re going, rather than where they’ve been. The best arguments in favor of Jim & Mitch were relatively successful drafts that restocked a cupboard bereft of young talent, including a couple of picks that were beyond the draft positions where you’d expect that to happen. Yet even their most ardent supporters would concede that they’ve been anywhere from poor to disastrous in Free Agency, from ill-conceived (and failed, thankfully) max contract offers to Carmelo Anthony & Dwight Howard, overlooking Isaiah Thomas, and the massive deals that they ultimately gave to Timofey Mozgov & Luol Deng. The last team-building mechanism, the trade market, is a place where Jim & Mitch excelled over their tenures but were very selective. It doesn’t matter too much if you’re a 48% 3-point shooter when you’re only shooting one per game.

The simple reality is that going forward, Free Agency & the trade market will be much more important components of the Lakers’ future than the draft will be, they’ve retained the guy who was arguably the most instrumental in the success of those drafts (West), and massively upgraded their salesmanship abilities by going from Jim Buss & Mitch Kupchak to Magic Johnson & (presumably) Rob Pelinka, greatly improving their chances in Free Agency.

The fantasy in my head goes something like this.

Ryan West is the organization’s personnel guy. Magic & Pelinka have input but ultimately defer to his knowledge and expertise regarding which collegiate players are better than others, which free agents are bargains, which high priced free agents are overvalued, and his general perspective on how the on-court elements of basketball work in 2017.

Rob Pelinka is the dealmaker. He leverages his relationships with players and front offices to execute the triumvirate’s agreed upon vision. West is said to be respected around the league but has minimal, ancillary experience in terms of actually executing transactions. Magic Johnson certainly does, in a number of different industries, but Pelinka’s been an active and uninterrupted participant in the basketball world for years. He’d be the guy who actually gets things done, whether it’s on the trade market or by constructing and delivering pitches in Free Agency.

Magic Johnson is the face of the franchise. If nothing else, the departure of Jim Buss & Mitch Kupchak gives the Lakers a unified front for the first time since the beloved Dr. Jerry Buss died. The narrative over the last several years has been that the Lakers are a dysfunctional franchise, with quarreling owners who can’t get on the same page. Who’s to blame for that simply doesn’t matter anymore. The Lakers now have a clear chain of command, with Magic sitting atop of the basketball operations, where he can be the public face that is presented to the media, prospective free agents, and fans, all of whom recognize that he is the person who is ultimately responsible for the product on the floor. He certainly has a say in personnel matters…the final say, in fact…but decides to lean on his support staff as heavily as he has in his successful, post-career business ventures.

The nightmare scenario involves Magic & Pelinka conflating their expertise in other areas of basketball with their abilities to make personnel evaluations and decisions, and their more experienced counterparts around the league eat them alive.

Let’s take a moment to state the obvious. Rob Pelinka is one of the most influential power brokers in the NBA today, with an impressive list of clients that include Kobe Bryant, James Harden, Chris Bosh, Avery Bradley, and others. Magic Johnson, of course, will be working outside of a building that rightfully immortalized his on-court brilliance by putting his own damn statue in front of it. By any measure, these two are giants within their respective areas of expertise.

Yet many legends who’ve made the transition into NBA front offices have been spectacular failures, and their brilliance in other areas of the game doesn’t translate. Does Magic take a couple of weeks to read up on the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and think that his knowledge on the topic rivals other decision makers around the league that know it inside and out…or does he hire (and more importantly, rely upon) an expert? Does he sit courtside at a college game and blithely comment on how scouting talent is the “easy part” in between bites of popcorn, as he did recently while watching UCLA…or does he acknowledge that he should defer to people like Ryan West so the Lakers don’t end up with Brandon Knight, Jahlil Okafor, Jimmer Fredette, or others that he’s advocated for in the past? Does Rob Pelinka believe that he’s suddenly an expert on personnel and roster construction, step on West’s toes, and then fail while negotiating with the same NBA front offices that he’d been commissioned to oppose for so many years, as agent-turned-GM Lon Babby did with the Phoenix Suns?

Magic Johnson & Rob Pelinka have skill sets that will likely be simpatico, but how much they rely upon people like Ryan West…rather than presuming that their expertise and success in other areas of the game will transfer to personnel decisions…will determine how successful this new regime will be.

Oh, and that elephant in the room? You know, the “what does this mean for the future of D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and the other young guys” one? I have no freaking idea, I’m just along for the ride.

 

Go Lakers.

 

 

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Game Preview: Suns vs. Lakers – 2/15/17

 

Lakers, Suns Face Off  in Final Game Before All-Star Break

By: John Lu

 

After struggling through much of December and January, the Lakers have played better as of late. Their recent stretch re-introduced glimpses of the promising style of basketball what was played throughout the first 20 games of the season, when the team exceeded expectations on their way to a 10-10 record.

In the last game before the All Star break and the trade deadline, the Lakers will face off against the Suns for the third time this season. In the season series between the two Western conference bottom-dwellers, the two teams have split the first two meetings – the Lakers winning the first 119-108 and losing the second 115-119. In these two games, the Suns starting backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker averaged a combined 51.5 points and 11 assists per game on 57.6% true shooting. The Lakers will need to formulate their game plan around containing these two to maximize their chance of winning.


Devin Booker Shooting the Three

 

 

Why it Worked: Booker has shot extremely well in 2017 – averaging 44.4% and 38.2% from long distance in January and February, respectively. Part of the reason behind his high three-point percentage is his teammates’ ability to find him for open shots beyond the arc. On the season 78.1% of his three-point makes were assisted.

In this play, Bledsoe brings the ball up and Tyson Chandler sets a screen on his man about 40 feet away from the basket as the ball crosses half court. This high screen and roll action allows Bledsoe to accelerate and easily get by John Henson (#31 on the Bucks) with a left-to-right crossover. As he penetrates into the paint, all five Bucks defenders collapse onto him, leaving both Booker and T.J. Warren wide open behind the three-point line. Bledsoe makes the correct read and swings the ball out to Booker. Splash.

How to Adjust: The high screen and roll action puts the Bucks’ defense in a reactionary situation and Booker’s defender unnecessarily helps on Bledsoe’s drive – allowing Booker to be wide open at the three-point line. It’s imperative for Booker’s defender to be disciplined to minimize the amount of open three-point looks for him.

In closeout situations, the defender must try to run Booker off the three-point line. On the season, he is shooting a suboptimal 37.8% from 10 feet to the three-point line and has yet to show the ability to efficiently create offense for others (averaging 3.6 assists and 3.0 turnovers per 36 minutes with 15.9% AST% and 12.4% TOV%). As a result, Booker’s defender should aim to attack him on the three-point line and force him to try to make a play for others.


Bledsoe on the Drive

 

 

Why it Worked: Bledsoe’s offensive game is best when he drives into the paint. For the season he is finishing around the rim at 61.4% while averaging career bests in both free throw attempt rate and free throw percentage (0.434 and 84.9%, respectively). In addition, he is also very capable of creating offense for others as the defense closes in on him (31.2% AST% and 14.7% TOV% this season).

In this play, the Suns again run high screen and roll. Unlike the other play, Chandler’s defender is not in position to hedge high and allows Bledsoe to accelerate and drive directly into the paint. Jameer Nelson gets caught on the screen and loses the angle to cut Bledsoe off. As a result, he steps around Nelson for a layup at the rim.

How to Adjust: It would be best for the defense to prioritize containing Bledsoe on the drive and force him to settle from the perimeter. On the season he is shooting just 35.9% from 10 feet to the three-point line and 32.5% beyond it. His outside efficiency is very pedestrian compared to his ability to finish at the rim or create open shots for others. Limiting Bledsoe’s penetration opportunities also minimizes kick outs to open teammates at the three-point line. Therefore, putting a quicker or longer perimeter defender (Clarkson or Russell) on him and having the big man hedge higher in screen and roll situations will help to curtail Bledsoe on the offensive end.

 


Exploit the Suns’ Perimeter Defense

 

 

Why it Worked: The Suns are the third worst team in the league in terms of defensive efficiency at 109.4 points per 100 possessions. The Bucks run a baseline loop play for Jason Terry. Although the two screeners make minimal contact with Booker, he still missteps around the Henson screen and forfeits an angle for Terry to catch and drive into the paint. While all this is happening, Bledsoe does not bother to apply any pressure on the passer, allowing him to accurately deliver the ball to the cutting Terry without concern for a deflection. As Terry drives into the teeth of the defense, he has options to either dish to Henson in the paint, Giannis at the three-point line, or to take the shot for himself. Booker has no choice but the commit the foul.

How to Adjust: The Lakers would be wise to run plenty of off-ball action against the poor Suns defensive backcourt. Bledsoe is averaging a career worst -0.5 DBPM while Booker has always been a negative defender at -2.9 DBPM. The Suns clearly have both communication issues and individual technique deficiencies on the defensive end and running motion off-ball plays will definitely open up offensive opportunities for the Lakers. Russell this season has shown the ability to make correct reads in these situations and the whole team will benefit by putting him at the trigger position.

Notes: The Suns and Lakers are two of the fastest teams in the league in terms of offensive pace – the Suns 4th at 101.8 possessions per game and the Lakers 6th at 100.6 possessions per game. At the same time the two teams are among the league’s worst in defensive efficiency – the Suns at 28th at 109.4 points per 100 possessions and the Lakers 29th at 110.1 points per 100 possessions. As a result, this game should be a high scoring affair. Over the past three games (excluding SAC), D’Angelo Russell has averaged only 5 field goal attempts while playing 23.3 minutes per game.    

 

Game Preview: Bucks vs. Lakers – 2/10/17

 

Lakers Conclude Grammy Trip in Milwaukee

 

By: Tom Zayas

 

The Lakers are the first team to play the Bucks since Jabari Parker’s injury on Feb. 8th. He finished the season averaging 20.1 points on 16 field goal attempts per game, which partially demonstrates the efficiency with which he’s been playing with this season. A lot of the Bucks’ offense depended on Parker operating in the high post and he performed well at it, shooting a career-best 53% eFG and 36.5% from three. When Parker went down, Beasley came in against Miami and scored 11 points in the 4th quarter, as he is wont to do. I’d suspect Beasley will slide into the starting lineup in Parker’s place, and his scoring ability has the potential to haunt the Lakers all night long. Giannis Antetokounmpo will shoulder more of the burden on offense in Parker’s absence, and get your popcorn ready to see how Brandon Ingram matches up with the Freak. Let’s check out some film to see what the Lakers will be facing on the court in Milwaukee. 

 

Freak in the 1 – 5 Double-High Screen

The Bucks like to run a double-high screen for Antetokounmpo with the point guard and the center setting the screens, which virtually guarantees a mismatch against Giannis’ length and speed. 

Why it Worked: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ridiculous length helps him get around Chriss and to the basket for an and-1. He two steps his way into position from the free throw line, but it’s the double-high screen from Dellevedova and Henson the allows the Freak to create momentum for his long strides toward the basket. The play creates multiple mismatches — as Henson rolls with Bledsoe matched up with him, he’s ready to clean up Giannis’ miss or receive a pocket pass for a dunk. 

How to Adjust: I’m almost certain we’ll see this play from Milwaukee early in the game, so let’s assume that Ingram, Russell, and Black will be defending against it. Ingram should fight over the screens and try to keep up with Giannis from behind.  Russell needs to tag (jump in front of) Henson once he rolls (and contest Dellevedova if kicked to him for 3), and Black should get into Gianni’s body and eliminate his ability to go east-west with each step. All that being said, forcing him one direction and bodying him up without fouling is easier said than done.

I’m fascinated to see if Ingram is able to go over the screens with Giannis, trail him, and contest his shot at the basket from behind. Ingram’s not strong enough yet to be able to defend Giannis with any consistency, but it will be interesting to see whether or not Ingram can show flashes of mitigating elite length and speed in the NBA. 


 

Lengthy Bucks

The Bucks are particularly good at using their length to affect passing lanes. At 9th in the league in steals per game, they disturb passing lanes and create easy transition opportunities.

Why it Worked: Milwaukee is vulnerable against skip passes as their rotations have the tendency to get scrambled in half-court sets, but guards get into trouble when they try to go over the top of the Bucks for skip passes. Devin Booker tries to skip the ball across the defense but waits too long and Greg Monroe obstructs the passing angle with his length. The deflection leads to a transition opportunity, where the Bucks excel at team passing as seen in the clip above. 

How to Adjust: The best options to mitigate the Bucks’ length is to make quick decisions on the skip pass before they can obscure passing angles, make bounce passes, or drag the trapping bigs out to create a passing angle for the short roll. All of these things D’Angelo Russell excels at for his age, but chances are Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams will rack up a few turnovers because of the Bucks’ length. 


 

Interior Passing

Milwaukee is second in the league in paint touch points (16 ppg) behind only Golden State. Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo frequently operate out of the high post, but are also extremely good cutters off-ball and create passing angles for layups — a trait that trickles down to the Bucks’ role players as well. Here’s Greg Monroe delivering an excellent back-door bounce pass to Mirza Teletovic for an and-1 layup.

Why it Worked: T.J. Warren tries to ice the screen from Brogdon, and Teletovic properly reads the back door cut. Monroe delivers an excellent bounce pass that passes Teletovic open, and the Suns’ interior defense isn’t prepared to contest the shot. Whether it’s Monroe, Giannis, Beasley, or Brogdon, the Bucks are an excellent interior passing team who create inside shot opportunities from penetration and cutting off the high post. 

How to Adjust: It will be important for the Lakers to not overplay the perimeter catch, as the Bucks don’t have many quality three-point shooter that you worry about. Teletovic is probably their most consistent shooter, but he’s still capable of beating you back door if you assume that shooting threes is all that he can do. As the Lakers scheme to beat the Bucks, I’d recommend forcing them to beat you from deep on Friday night, as they have limited outside shooting and shot creators without Jabari Parker out of the lineup. Forcing the Bucks into mid to long range jumpers all night will help mitigate the Bucks biggest strengths — fast-break points and points in the paint. 

 

 

 

Game Preview: Pistons vs. Lakers – 2/8/17

Lakers’ New Starting Unit Seeks Second Straight Win in Detroit

 
By: Michael Taylor (@LFRMBT)

 

On Monday night, the Lakers steamrolled the Knicks after swapping veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov for Brandon Ingram and Tarik Black in the starting lineup. Although Black posted an insane +34 and net rating of 78 against the Knicks, his minutes could be limited against Andre Drummond’s size, as Black tends to struggle against bigger, more traditional NBA centers. There’s a chance that Luke inserts Mozgov into the starting unit to matchup with Drummond (and appease Moz), but after the success in New York, he might roll with his adjustment to see what this lineup can do against a team who hasn’t completely given up on the season (ahem, Knicks). Let’s take a deeper look into the January 15th game against the Pistons to see how the Lakers can adjust in order to snag their second straight win.  

Quick-Ish

In the previous game the Lakers played the Pistons, Ish Smith gave his team a nice boost off the bench — posting a +17 on the night in only 20 minutes.

Why it Worked: Julius Randle is slow to get back on defense, essentially creating a 5 on 4 opportunity for Detroit. Baynes sets the drag screen for Smith at the elbow, giving him enough space to survey the floor as well as pulling Black out a few more feet from the basket. Since Harris (presumably Randle’s man) is unguarded, he cuts directly to the basket. Ingram is too late in reacting to Harris’ cut through the lane, and Smith hits Harris for an easy dunk.

How to Adjust: Whenever the Pistons insert Smith into the game for Reggie Jackson, they transform into a faster team that opts for transition/early offense. The Lakers are 28th in the NBA in giving up fast break points, surrendering 15.0 PPG. In all cases, the Lakers need to get back in transition, but especially when Ish Smith comes in. The Lakers aren’t proficient enough on defense to go long stretches without everyone back on defense. In transition/early offense, Los Angeles needs to be clear in calling out defensive assignments. 


 

Pistons’ Spacing

Why it Worked: The play starts out in horns with Smith passing to Drummond, then cutting to set a stagger screen for Stanley Johnson. Drummond then goes into a dribble handoff with Marcus Morris. Nick Young goes under Drummond’s screen, giving Morris enough space to rise and drill the three.

How to Adjust: Stan Van Gundy is notorious for running four out to maximize the pace inside the three-point line to run pick and roll with Drummond. The combo of Morris and Harris shot 6-15 from three (23 points each), which opens the floor for plays like this.

At 34.1%, Marcus Morris is not an elite three-point shooter and Nick Young probably does right by going under Drummond to cut off a possible drive. However, he needs to do a better job fighting Morris to get to the spot that Morris wants to get to. Drummond is extremely unlikely to take off and drive to the basket, so when he dribbles in the half court, he’s looking to hand off to someone who can handle the rock or drain it from outside. Instead of following Morris, Young should jump his path. Although this might lead to a back-cut, the Lakers would do well in taking their chances with Drummond trying to make that pass.


 

MBT <3 DAR

D’Angelo Russell had a nice game scoring 20 points in just 26 minutes, with 14 points were a result of shots in or around the paint.

Aggressive Russell is the best Russell. Throughout the game, D’Angelo did a great job of attacking the smaller Detroit guards and getting into the paint. When his shot is falling, it sets up his passing.

Here, he’s posted up on the smaller Reggie Jackson, as Baynes hedges, Mozgov slips the screen, Russell throws a beautiful no look over the head pass. Due to Detroit having smaller guards, the Lakers would be wise to run their offense through Russell, and let him take advantage of the height differential.

MBT: “This clip below isn’t relevant; I just think it was funny how D’Lo broke Andre’s ankles and no one noticed.”

***Editor’s Note*** 

Michael thought we wouldn’t include this video, but we have to so y’all can understand why dude is so fired up about DAR (& why you should be, too). 

Notes: Andre Drummond is shooting a career best from the free throw line this season with .438%. If he gets close to the basket, FOUL THIS MAN IMMEDIATELY. The Pistons are 1st in the league in DREB% and the Lakers are 7th in OREB%, so the winner of this game will likely control this key area — Tarik Black’s energy (15.2 OREB %) could come in handy in the starting lineup. Both teams are bottom 5 in the league in AST%, so you’ll probably see a lot of stagnant offense with below average assist totals. With their traditional back-to-the-basket center Andre Drummond, the Pistons play the 5th slowest pace in the league (96.76), and the Lakers would benefit from pushing the pace and trying to control tempo in their favor.